Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO COUNT D'ESTAING. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. VII (1778-1779)
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TO COUNT D’ESTAING. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. VII (1778-1779) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. VII (1778-1779).
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TO COUNT D’ESTAING.
Head-Quarters, 11th Septem., 1778.
I have had the honor of receiving your Letter of the 5th inst., accompanied by a Copy of two Letters to Congress and Genl. Sullivan. The confidence, which you have been pleased to show in communicating these papers, engages my sincere thanks. If the deepest regret, that the best concerted enterprise and bravest exertions should have been rendered fruitless by a disaster, which human prudence is incapable of foreseeing or preventing, can alleviate disappointment, you may be assured, that the whole Continent sympathizes with you. It will be a consolation to you to reflect, that the thinking part of mankind do not form their judgment from events; and that their equity will ever attach equal glory to those actions, which deserve success, as to those which have been crowned with it. It is in the trying circumstances to which Your Excellency has been exposed, that the virtues of a great mind are displayed in their brightest lustre, and that the General’s Character is better known, than in the moment of Victory. It was yours, by every title which can give it; and the adverse element, which robbed you of your prize, can never deprive you of the Glory due to you. Tho’ your success has not been equal to your expectations, yet you have the satisfaction of reflecting, that you have rendered essential services to the common cause.
I exceedingly lament, that, in addition to our misfortunes, there has been the least suspension of harmony and good understanding between the generals of allied nations, whose views must, like their interests, be the same. On the first intimation of it, I employed my influence in restoring what I regard as essential to the permanence of an Union founded on mutual inclination, and the strongest ties of reciprocal advantage. Your Excellency’s offer to the Council of Boston had a powerful tendency to promote the same end, and was a distinguished proof of your zeal and magnanimity.1
The present Superiority of the enemy in naval force must for a time suspend all plans of offensive coöperation between us. It is not easy to foresee what change may take place by the arrival of Succours to you from Europe, or what opening the enemy may give you to resume your activity. In this moment, therefore, every consultation on this subject would be premature. But it is of infinite importance, that we should take all the means that our circumstances will allow for the defence of a Squadron, which is so pretious to the common cause of france and America, and which may have become a capital object with the enemy. Whether this really is the case, can be only matter of conjecture. The original intention of the reinforcement sent to Rhode island was obviously the relief of the Garrison at that post. I have to lament, that, tho’ seasonably advised of the movement, it was utterly out of my power to counteract it. A naval force alone could have defeated the attempt. How far their views may since have been enlarged, by the arrival of Byron’s fleet, Your Excellency will be best able to judge. Previous to this event, I believe Genl. Clinton was waiting orders from his court for the conduct he was to pursue; in the meantime embarking his Stores and heavy baggage, in order to be the better prepared for a prompt evacuation, if his instructions should require it.1
But as the present posture of affairs may induce a change of operations, and tempt them to carry the war eastward for the ruin of your Squadron, it will be necessary for us to be prepared to oppose such an enterprise. I am unhappy, that our situation will not admit of our contributing more effectually to this important end; but assure you, at the same time, that whatever can be attempted without losing sight of objects equally essential to the interest of the two nations, shall be put in execution.
A Candid view of our affairs, which I am going to exhibit, will make you a judge of the difficulties under which we labor. Almost all our supplies of flour, and no inconsiderable part of our meat, are drawn from the States westward of Hudson’s River. This renders a secure communication across the River indispensably necessary, both to the support of your Squadron and the Army. The enemy being masters of that navigation, would interrupt this essential intercourse between the States. They have been sensible of these advantages; and by the attempts, which they have made, to bring about a Separation of the Eastern from the Southern States, and the facility, which their superiority by Sea has hitherto given them, have always obliged us, besides garrisoning the Forts that immediately defend the passage, to keep a force at least equal to that, which they have had posted in New York and its dependencies.
It is incumbent upon us at this time to have a greater force in this quarter than usual, from the concentered State of the enemy’s strength, and the uncertainty of their designs. In addition to this, it is to be observed, that they derive an inestimable advantage from the facility of transporting their troops from one point to another. These rapid movements enable them to give us uneasiness for remote, unguarded parts, in attempting to succor which we should be exposed to ruinous marches, and after all perhaps be the dupes of a feint.—if they could, by any demonstration in another part, draw out attention and strength from this important point, and, by anticipating our return, possess themselves of it, the consequences would be fatal. Our dispositions must, therefore, have equal regard to coöperating with you in a defensive plan, and securing the North River; which the remoteness of the two objects from each other renders peculiarly difficult. Immediately upon the change, which happened in your naval affairs, my attention was directed to conciliating these two great ends. The necessity of transporting magazines, collected relatively to our present position, and making new arrangements for ulterior operations, has hitherto been productive of delay. These points are now nearly accomplished, and I hope in a day or two to begin a general movement of the Army eastward. As a commencement of this, one division marched this morning under Major-General Gates towards Danbury, and the rest of the army will follow as speedily as possible.
The following is a general idea of my disposition. The army will be thrown into several divisions, one of which, consisting of a force equal to the Enemy’s in New York, will be posted about thirty miles in the rear of my present camp, and in the vicinity of the North River, with a view to its defence; the other will be pushed on at different stages as far towards Connecticut River, as can be done consistently with preserving a communication, and having them within supporting distance of each other, so as that, when occasion may require, they may form a junction, either for their own immediate defence, or to oppose any attempts, that may be made on the North River. The facility which the enemy have of collecting their whole force, and turning it against any point they choose, will restrain us from extending ourselves so far as will either expose us to be beaten by detachment, or endanger the Security of the North River.
This disposition will place the American forces as much in measure for assisting in the defence of your Squadron, and the Town of Boston, as is compatible with the other great objects of our care. It does not appear to me probable, that the enemy would hazard the penetrating of Boston by land, with the force which they at present have to the eastward. I am rather inclined to believe, that they will draw together their whole Land and Naval Strength, to give the greater probability of Success. In order to do this, New York must be evacuated; an event, which cannot take place without being announced by circumstances impossible to conceal; and I have reason to hope that the time, which must necessarily be exhausted in embarking and transporting their troops and Stores, would be sufficient for me to advance a considerable part of my army in a posture for opposing them.
The observations which Your Excellency makes relative to the necessity of having intelligent spies, are perfectly just—every measure that circumstances would admit has been to answer this valuable end—and our intelligence has in general been as good as could be expected from the situation of the Enemy. The distance at which we are from our posts of observations in the first instance, and the long Journey which is afterwards to be performed before a letter can reach Your Excellency hinder my communicating intelligence with such celerity as I could wish.—
The letter which I sent giving an account of Lord Howe’s movements was despatched as soon as the fact was ascertained but it did not arrive ’till you had gone to sea, in pursuit of the british Squadron—
As Your Excellency does not mention the letters I last had the honor of writing to you, I am apprehensive of some delay or miscarriage—their dates were the 3d & 4th inst.
The sincere esteem and regard which I feel for Your Excellency, make me set the highest value upon every expression of friendship with which you are pleased to honor me—I entreat you to accept the most cordial return on my part—I shall count it a singular felicity if in the course of possible operations above alluded to, personal intercourse shd. afford me the means of cultivating a closer intimacy with you, and of proving more particularly the respect and attachment with which
I have, &c.
P. S. My dispatches were going to be closed when Your Excellency’s Letter of the 8th was delivered to me.
The state of Byron’s Fleet from the best intelligence I have been able to obtain, is as follows:
Six Ships, the names of which are mentioned in the paper I had the honor of transmitting the 3d—have arrived at New York, with Crews in very bad health.
Two vizt. The Cornwall of 74 and Monmouth of 64, had joined Lord Howe—two, one of which the Admiral’s Ship, were missing. One had put back to Portsmouth.
[1 ]When Lafayette arrived in Boston from Rhode Island, Count d’Estaing’s fleet had just entered the outer harbor. The Council of Massachusetts was convened, and a conference was held between that body and the Count d’Estaing and Lafayette, on the subjects of providing for the fleet and of reinforcing General Sullivan’s army. Count d’Estaing wrote to Washington: “I offered and was ready, at the head of a regiment, to go and serve under General Sullivan, as I formerly did under Marshal Saxe, in the war which terminated in 1748. I should not have taken this step with the idea of strengthening an army with such a handful of men, nor of proving what is already known, that the French nation can sacrifice life with a good grace: but I was anxious to demonstrate, that my countrymen could not be offended by a sudden expression of feeling, and that he, who had the honor of commanding them in America, was and would be at all times one of the most devoted and zealous servants of the United States.”—MS. Letter, September 5th.
[1 ]General Clinton had received full instructions, before he left Philadelphia, dated March 21st. He was ordered to send five thousand men with the greatest secrecy and despatch to the West Indies, for the purpose of attacking St. Lucia. This was delayed for the want of transports, and the necessary ships for a convoy, particularly after the arrival of Count d’Estaing’s fleet. This order being unknown to Washington, the preparations for executing it were suspected to indicate a design of evacuating the city.